What We Ate

1.     ½ cup of low fat cottage cheese (101).

In college, my mother discovered that if she only ate a hamburger patty and a half cup of low fat cottage cheese every day, she could shave pounds off her thighs, hips, stomach and arms in about 7 days. But she kept going, basking in the new attention from her friends, her boyfriend (my father), and her father, a butcher who finally cornered her one weekend and demanded to know what was up. What was up was a new addiction that my mother found entrancing – seeing how she looked in bikinis, tight bell bottom jeans, sexy turtleneck sweaters.

2.     Nothing (0).

When I was eleven, I stopped eating and drinking and lost 20 pounds and was hospitalized after sliding off a toilet and onto the tile floor. A pediatrician in the ER put an IV in my arm and told me I was dehydrated, and for a while I believed this was what happened. And now I don’t.

3.     Yoplait yogurt (90).

I know about my mother’s calorie deprivation because she told me when I was fifteen and she found my food diary, which at first glance looked to her like a recipe booklet. But she knew better. At this point I was down to around 700 calories a day, mostly from Yoplait yogurts, grocery store mini bagels, Campbell’s soup, and slices of cucumber. I wound up admitting hunger to a friend’s mother as we carpooled to Jewish youth group in St. Louis County. This woman scolded me in the car, saying, “You need 2000 calories. Every day.” I didn’t want her attention though.

4.     Cup of corn (72).

In 1999, feeling hungry felt right again. I ate toast with jelly, a salad, and a half cup of spaghetti-Os from a can or a cup of corn each day, watching carefully as my waist narrowed and I could wear pants from high school again. I felt lighter as I walked around campus. I bought butterfly wings from a thrift store for Halloween and decided to wear them into Thanksgiving and the holidays. A friend asked for my secret. Suffering, I didn’t say.

5.     1 cup broccoli, steamed (31).

My mother decided to eat nothing but steamed broccoli after her divorce. Soon her pants fell off of her. What’s happening to you, her friends asked, and I knew the calorie counting was back again, the answer to her pain, the x + y to her life. “Can I borrow your jeans?” she asked me, a first. She started dating a man from a poetry group. Her mother died. She started to disappear even more. She broke up with the poet and started to eat again one March, I cannot say why other than this is the cycle.

6.     Salad bar from café at work (180).

After being pregnant or nursing for four years in a row, my body began to transform into something new, someone leaner and rangier, angrier. I was a caretaker now, an attachment parent and a slayer of night waking. I could do this, work 12-hour days and nurse a baby all night. It helped if I ate nothing but salad and didn’t sleep, I thought at the time. I walked with a new sultry swagger; I did not need rest or grandparents to help with childcare or sugar or sodium or vitamin B and D. I lost 18 pounds and had nothing to wear anymore.

7.     Edy’s ice cream, quantity unknown. (I don’t know).

And then it stopped. I do not want to pass this on. My older daughter, at 7, cannot be fooled. Why do you wear mascara to work? Why did your dad not talk to you or us when you saw him at Uncle Bryan’s wedding? Why do we get days off for Easter but not Passover? And why aren’t you eating dinner? And why aren’t you eating dessert? So I eat dinner and then dessert. I do not want to pass this on. I started running and eating more and writing and eating more and telling off my dad for the first time in my life and eating more. Although the habit of weighing myself every day endures, I am healthy and alive and I do not ever want to die. I do not want to pass this on.


Jamie Wagman is an Assistant Professor of Gender & Women’s Studies and History at Saint Mary’s College in Indiana. Her work has also appeared in Nashim: A Journal of Jewish Women’s Studies and Gender IssuesThe Adirondack Review, Newfound, and most recently in 2017 anthology Nasty Women and Bad Hombres.